When you open a computer, the most important thing to you above the power or the looks, is just that it works the way that you want. When it comes to extreme land speed racing, that same value is what we try to key in on. Failure, or in this case system failure, is not an option. At any given time during the run, it is constantly collecting and relaying data back to the team on the ground. With top speeds of up to 850 MPH, it means that decisions can be made in a matter of seconds. There is no second guessing, and there cannot be a delay, for a second could be the difference between life and death. Our use of the Lenovo ThinkPad W550s is certainly an extreme case, but it illustrates the machine’s capacity to fill a wealth of different needs.
Suggesting that a computer can endure extreme conditions is somewhat of an understatement when it comes to working with the North American Eagle. The engine vibrations alone have a tendency to wreak havoc with nearby computers, causing hard drive failures, and other systems to malfunction. When the car is powered on, most nearby computers either shut down to save themselves, or end up shredding their own hard drives because of the vibrations coming off the engine. Inside of the car, temperatures can rise well above 130 degrees Fahrenheit, which is far outside the range that most computers can still operate. Since we also run on desert lakebeds, the computer must also be able to survive the dirt that accumulates everywhere.
We have had a longstanding relationship with Lenovo. They have been very kind in providing us a multitude of workstations. The machines have enabled us to push the boundaries of available computing power, while being known for developing rugged computers. When it came time for a new computer for on-board the North American Eagle, we again turned to Lenovo for a machine that could meet our extreme requirements. They suggested a new machine that was due out shortly thereafter, the Lenovo ThinkPad W550s.
The machine was designed as an intersection between great computing power and true portability. With the computer being designed to endure extreme conditions, it fit the bill perfectly for what we needed. (Included to the left is the unboxing video from when the computer first arrived)
For those interested in the specs of the on-board computer, it has an i7–5600U built-in, 16 GB of RAM, a dedicated NVIDIA Quadro K620M video card, and currently runs Windows 10 Pro.
The computer of course utilizes a 512GB solid-state drive, so that it can continue to operate even with the vibrations from the engine. A surprise addition to the machine was that of the 3K screen. While it not only looks great with the high resolution, it is also touch capable. Because of where the computer is located inside of the Eagle, it can often be difficult to operate it by normal trackpad. The touch screen allows us to access the computer without putting ourselves into an uncomfortable position. An additional upside to the machine is the inclusion of dual batteries (one internal and one external). This allows for us to continue to operate the computer for a long time, even when the car is powered off. The battery works so well that we do not actually have an additional power cable outside of the car, even as we take it out of the shop some evenings to work on it overnight.
Some considerations for this machine include the fact that while the new trackpad is far larger and smoother to use, there is a lack of physical buttons at the bottom of the trackpad, which may seem unusual to those coming from older ThinkPad computers. However, the lower portion of the trackpad serves as a replacement for the buttons. There is also somewhat of an abrupt edge on the lower trackpad that does take some getting use to, but certainly nothing horrendous. These are largely considerations for individuals whom are more accustomed to older generation ThinkPad computers looking to upgrade.
Overall, this is an awesome computer that performs under some of the most extreme of conditions. It is not only great at dealing with a serious workload, but can be taken nearly anywhere with its slim profile. It really is a satisfying computer to use, and holds true to the ThinkPad design style. For anyone looking for a mobile workstation for only the heaviest of workloads, the Lenovo ThinkPad W541 and upcoming ThinkPad P-Series are also excellent choices.